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Now and Then – The Honorary Mayor Contests

| Community | November 30, 2017

The SCV may not have had an official mayor until December of 1987, but thanks to the Elks Lodge, it did have a number of Honorary Mayors pre-cityhood. In February 1970, the Elks inaugurated its Honorary Mayor Contest – a month-long campaign of fundraisers hosted by social, charitable, political, and service organizations with one goal in mind, to separate the “voter” from his money. The organization that amassed the largest campaign chest at the end of the four-week race earned its candidate the right to wear the badge of Honorary Mayor for one year.

The contest started each February with a Kick-Off Dance at the Elks Lodge. Candidates assembled with their respective backers to sell campaign buttons, tickets, kisses, and most anything else that was legal – each 10 cents donated to a campaign was counted as one vote.

Harold Shands manned the “pace car” for the YoYos and Gumdrops fundraiser organized by Jo Kehiayan.

The Kick-Off was followed by four weekends of eclectic events that included everything from car washes to auctions, golf tournaments to theater parties, and raffles to fashion shows. Over the years, an impressive slate of candidates paraded before the public, sporting campaign buttons like “Let George Do It” (not Pederson, who would later use the slogan to run for City Council, but Rotarian George Wells, former Straw Hat Pizza owner and longtime supporter of the Boys and Girls Club and Henry Mayo Memorial Hospital); and “Fee for Me,” (G.W. Fee, the Moose Lodge’s good-natured “elder statesman” who stood out in every crowd because he wore railroad overalls to every event – right up until the inauguration banquet when he shocked his followers by donning a tuxedo).

Fee’s family had settled in Newhall in the 1920s. His mother and stepfather, Dora and John Taylor, opened Taylor’s Place on San Fernando Road (now Main Street) shortly after moving to the valley. Their malt shop was next to Newhall Community Hospital. The family also sold chicken pot pies to the men who were working on the “Newhall Grade” tunnel in the early ‘30s. G.W. had worked for the State of California, Newhall Land, Bermite, and Southern California Edison before retiring in 1970.
Fee, who ended up winning the 1978 Honorary Mayor title, would spend the next year alternating ceremonial duties with part-time jobs at Dillenbeck’s Market and the Feed Bin on Sierra Highway, as well as his farming chores.

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The list of candidates represented a “who’s who” on the social and charitable scene, featuring hard-working volunteers like social mavens Claire Rider, Janet Hughes, and Joyce Armstrong (later Whiteside-Bell); country-western entertainers Tex Williams, Cliffie Stone, and Carl Cribbs; popular emcee and character actor George Keegan; featured singer and keyboard artist Cindy Kress from the popular family band Cindy and Co.; and Newhall Bowl co-owner, Lee Turner.

The popularity of the Honorary Mayor candidates was rivaled only by the ingenious fundraisers planned by the competing organizations. In 1974, campaign manager Jo Kehiayan hosted a Yo-Yos and Gumdrops party for Republican Women’s Club candidate Estelle Dowdy. The event offered party-goers a chance at a second childhood with activities like yo-yo contests and tricycle and roller skating races – and all the contestants seemed quite comfortable in their new roles. Ed and Sue Barnhill, Carol and Harris Howard, Pat Willett, Beulah Cannon, Prudy Thatcher, Judy Anderson, and Olive Ruby were just a few of those enjoying the evening’s antics.

Highlight was the tricycle race around the backyard pool (a precursor to the Rocking Horse Derby in the ‘80s and the more recent Child & Family Trike Derby). Conscientious pit and ambulance crews were on hand to reattach loose wheels, spokes, and handlebars along the circuitous course. Anyone falling in the pool was an automatic winner, but since the evening temperature was about 50 degrees, no one took that route.

At another event hosted by the political group, Maureen Reagan, daughter of the California governor at the time, dropped by to share campaign stories and anecdotes.

Some of the most popular events featured music performed by the Country-Western candidates themselves. Not surprisingly, they were often joined on stage by many of their fellow stars. And

Country-Western entertainers Tex Williams and Don Lee not only performed for Tex’s campaign, but events for other Honorary Mayor candidates as well. Original Photo by Don Atkinson

thanks to Elks Lodge members Russ and Susie Bisset, Dixieland fans were treated to jam sessions with legendary musicians like Pete Daily, Nappy Lamare, Bill Campbell, Al Jenkins, Hugh Allison, Jack Wadsworth, Abe Lincoln, and Wayne Songer.

With anywhere from three to five events going on each weekend, little wonder that the sponsoring organizations, their supporters, and their flattened wallets were happy to see the March Inaugural banquet arrive. The dinner-dance was a suspenseful one for the candidates as they waited to see who would emerge victorious. But at the end, the consensus was that the real winners were the respective charities, which would benefit from the good-natured competitions.

And unlike many conventional mayors, who tend to fade into the background once their tenures are over, the past winners returned year after year to support the race – as 1975 Honorary Mayor Janet Hughes quipped, “Old mayors never die, we just sell someone else’s raffle tickets.”

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About Linda Pedersen

Linda Pedersen is a 50-year resident of the Santa Clarita Valley. She has alternated being a columnist and feature writer with volunteering in the community.

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